Sam's Club

Twenty years ago, Safari Sams owner Sam Lanni had his dreams crushed by Huntington Beach. Now hes got a new dream on Sunset Boulevard

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So now he's put his savings into a vacantstrip club in a run-down section of Sunset known as "Hooker Alley." His wife's quit her job to be the club's marketing director. Why?

"Outside of my life with Cathie and our two children, owning a club was the happiest time of my life," he said. "As far as my work and what I want to accomplish in life, it's this. I'm not an artist, but I've always hungered to express myself. This is my bliss, my way of being creative."

With the original Safari Sam's, he said, "Gil was easily 60 percent of that club. It's going to be very interesting trying to do this without him. [Fuhrer lives in Philadelphia now. He's maintained an archive of the original Sam's accessible via the website.] Gil was the driving force behind our most off-kilter nights, the one who brought in the drama, poetry and opera. This time, I'm going to take the Gil role, while Steve and Patrick are gonna have to fit it into the scheduling puzzle."

Steve Zepeda and Patrick Llewellyn are the principal bookers for the venue. Llewellyn's been active on the LA scene for the past several years, while Zepeda booked alternative shows in Long Beach for decades, until a couple of years ago, when he burned out on dealing with club owners with no appreciation for music. "I'd decided I was never going to do this again unless there was really an opportunity where the music came first, so here I am," he said.

Given their druthers, the place would be an endless stream of cutting-edge puppet shows, gypsy acrobats, lecturers and full-on musical mayhem. Don't be too surprised, though, if the latest incarnation of Blue Oyster Cult also rolls through.

"I initially figured I needed seven sellouts a month to be able to do what we want the rest of the time. The way the costs have piled up, and with a $100,000 nut every month, we're going to need more like 10 or 11, which is hard to do," Lanni admitted. "One thing I swear we're not going to be, though, is one more of these hamster-wheel, band-in, band-out, band-in, band-out clubs. When people leave here, I want them to feel that they've been through something special.

"I feel like we're in the Dark Ages. Americans go to work, consume and watch TV. Rousseau said, 'Man is born free, and yet we see him everywhere in chains.' Now we're in prison practically. Everybody's working more, making less, living less, being less free and there's less sense of community. What are we getting out of it?"

LA was decidedly more fun 30 or 40 years ago, when you could pop down to the Troubadour to hear Captain Beefheart at full fury, or see a double bill of Pentangle and Richard Pryor, or catch the Firesign Theatre with Big Joe Williams at the Ash Grove, or Love and Spirit at the Whisky, while a Volkswagen dealer hired skywriting planes to fly over the town spelling out "Jack Poet loves you" just because he felt like it, and everyone felt the days and nights were full of possibility.

Maybe dreams come true and in a few years Hooker Alley will have the same cachet as the Sunset Strip or Silver Lake. If dreams don't come true, what's the good of being awake?

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